SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen came out of executive session Tuesday to vote 4-1 to extend an offer to buy the property known as “the post office parking lot” for $325,000.
The lot off the Clark Point Road is owned by Ken and Chiaolin Korona and has been leased by the town for municipal parking. Downtown business owners consider public use of the lot to be crucial for their success.
The Koronas have offered to sell the property to the town for $524,000, according to Town Manager Don Lagrange. The town’s offer of $325,000 is firm.
Under the current one-year lease, the town is able to utilize 36 parking spaces. There is the potential for 52 spaces if the town buys the parcel, Lagrange said Wednesday morning.
Public parking spaces are at a premium in Southwest Harbor, and solutions have been proposed in various sections of town.
In 2016, town officials considered buying a 1.05-acre property at 376 Main St., known as “the Murphy property,” and converting it into a parking lot with a mix of free short-term and paid long-term parking. The plan was stymied at the time by a perceived lack of support from voters, who would have to approve the purchase.
Lagrange said he is unsure if the Murphy property, which is listed at $375,000, is still available. At twice the size of the post office property, it has the potential for 92 spaces, he said.
The town first entered into a 20-year lease on the post office lot with the previous owner in 1986. That lease had an option to extend the term for another 10 years, which, at the time, selectmen voted to do. Under the terms of the lease, the town paid $1 annually and the Koronas were given a property tax break of about $1,200.
The 10-year option expired on Dec. 15. However, selectmen decided not to renew the lease after the Koronas insisted on a one-year term due to their uncertainty regarding future use of the lot. A long-term lease would limit any plans they might have for building on the property, they said.
Despite the lack of a lease, the public continued to park in the lot. During the winter, the Koronas, with an eye to keeping maintenance costs down, had only the spaces needed for the businesses in their post office building cleared of snow, a move that didn’t sit well with some business owners.
After attempts to get other businesses to share in maintenance costs went unanswered, the Koronas, in a symbolic gesture, closed the lot for one night in the late spring. That prompted business owners to petition selectmen to reconsider renewal of the lease.
In June, selectmen voted 4-1 to enter into a one-year lease with the Koronas. Selectman George Jellison, who cast the opposing vote, told the business owners that he felt selectmen had “been put into a corner we shouldn’t have been put in.”
On Tuesday, Jellison opposed the motion to make the offer on the post office lot.